Doctor Who: Tedious Adventure, Rewritten Details Impact Series
Do you remember the Matt Smith episode Rings of Akhaten from season seven (shout out to my fellow shameless Whovian nerds)? It’s a pretty average episode, but it features what is arguably Matt Smith’s finest moment out of his entire run on Doctor Who- a big speech, plopped right in the middle of the third act, where he spoke of everything he had seen, everything he had lost, everything he had to carry with him. Sure, the writing was a little cheesy, but Smith was so thoroughly ingrained in the character by that point that no-one noticed. It’s a bloody excellent scene, a reminder that past the quirky, fun sci-fi adventures, the Doctor has suffered like the rest of the universe, particularly surrounding the destruction of his home planet, Gallifrey. The acting was great, the writing was intuitive, and it felt like everyone involved with that moment understood it’s significance.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the fact that I’ve started the review for The Witch’s Familiar off by talking about a completely different episode is a bad sign. The episode, the second part to last week’s The Magician’s Apprentice (oh, by the way, my fellow Doctor Who blogger is catching up on his reviews for season 9 now, and has just posted his Magician’s Apprentice review, to be shortly followed by a vastly different take on this episode, so check that out), follows the Doctor as he tries to grapple with a dying Davros and save Missy and Clara. After the fun and rollicking adventure of last week, I had a sneaking suspicion that the follow-up wasn’t going to be as good. Sure, there are a handful of great moments mixed up in there- each and every one of Missy’s lines was a dizzying delight, to the point that I attempted to break up with my boyfriend half-way through the episode, believing it dishonest to stay with him when I was so clearly in love with Michelle Gomez. So let’s get that straight (or, in my case, very, very gay): Missy is excellent, and one of the best things to happen to the series in ages. Her take on the Master has echoes of Roger Delgado’s original series campy dastardlyness, and might even eclipse John Simm’s Tennant-era interpretation (allow me to go flog myself for blasphemy for a few years before I continue).
And don’t even get me started on Clara in this episode: no, seriously, don’t, because she did basically nothing except exist as a conduit for Missy’s humour. It’s gotten to the point now that I was praying Clara would bite it by the end of this episode, just because the show has no clue what to do with her and continues to underwrite her in every episode. Fly free, my sexy Bambi, fly free.
But the rest of the episode…it was kind of a shrug. Muted. Meh. The Doctor’s encounters with Davros should have held a clash-of-the-Titans style seriousness to them, but seemed cheap and overwrought. Clara getting all hooked up inside a Dalek was a neat idea that seemed to lead to another “the Doctor and Clara love each other 4eva OMG” climax that I’d seen at least ten million times before. The Daleks themselves seemed…secondary, which is not really a complaint because COME UP WITH NEW VILLAINS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, but when you set your episode on the planet of the fucking Daleks, I expect a bit more of the trundling teapots of Death. And was it just me, or did Skaro-the planet of the Daleks- seem to only be taken up by about an acre of Dalek-infested land?
One of the things that really jumped out at me was how average the writing was- I’m not sure if I haven’t already mentioned it a thousand times, but I’m reviewing New Who with another blogger, and we’re currently working our way through series one. Now, every single episode so far has a handful of brilliant lines- whether funny, emotionally resonant, or just plain spine-tingling (like this quote from the season opener), and that’s true of the series pretty much up until Capaldi’s arrival- from the Matt Smith example quoted above, to David Tennant’s goodbye to Rose, the show always had some prestige writing wrapped up in easy-to-swallow sci-fi nonsense.
Cast your mind back over Capaldi’s run: could you quote any of his lines? Pick out any really defining moments without having to grope around a bit first (I’d go with his non-discovery of Gallifrey at the end of the last season, but even that was pretty overwrought in restrospect)? The Witch’s Familiar was the first episode that I’d really put my finger on what was up with the series, and it’s lazy, unpolished writing that focuses more on amusing-but-forgettable quips over characterisation, Thinking about it, that’s one of the reasons Capaldi still doesn’t feel like the Doctor to me, despite the fact that he’s a tremendous actor who’s giving his all to this role.
But I’ll tell you the main reason this dude doesn’t feel like the Doctor. Because, with Gallifrey returned in the 50th Anniversary Special, half his angst is gone. All that seriousness that followed the Doctor around- as the man who remembered, then the man who forgot- is gone. He’s not the last of his race any more (well, he never was, because the Master existed, but you know what I mean), and that’s taken something from his character. When I first saw Day of the Doctor, I knew that Moffat had done something cataclysmic to the continuity of the show, and to the characterisation of it’s leading man, but it’s only now that I’m really noticing how shallow the Doctor seems now. Take that scene from Rings of Akhaten- it meant something because we believed that this person really had suffered, really had lost something unthinkable. But with that undone, Moffat seems to have stuck two fingers up to the brilliant work both he and The Davies had done earlier in the series making that such a central and fascinating part of the Doctor’s character, and he just doesn’t have the clout he once did.
Oh, and REPLACING THE SONIC SCREWDRIVER WITH SONIC SUNGLASSES? I’ll have my revenge in this life or the next, Moffat.